Volunteers Improve On the Ground Wildlife Habitat at State Game Areas

Michigan United Conservation Clubs On the Ground (OTG) program kicked off its first weekend of the year with a bang, as forty volunteers improved wildlife habitat at two state game areas by opening canopies for mast-bearing trees and building brush piles for rabbits.
Derek Schoch hauls brush at Gratiot-Saginaw SGA Derek Schoch hauls brush at Gratiot-Saginaw SGA
On February 22, fifteen volunteers gathered at the Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area on a frigid Saturday morning. After a short safety reminder, volunteers moved along a trail to cut scotch pine, birch and other trees that were blocking sunlight and stunting the growth of crabapple trees. Crabapples are eaten by grouse, turkey, deer and other species, so opening the canopy above them will improve the trees’ productivity and provide more food for wildlife species.
The volunteers then stacked the felled trees into large brush piles that provide shelter and cover for cottontail rabbits. The location of the piles along each side of the trail will make for excellent small game hunting opportunities for youth, as they’ll be able to walk down the trail hunt rabbits from the brush piles on either side. It’s only fitting that some youth helped out, including Noah Bleck, who came with his dad Thomas, and nine-year old Derek Schoch, who can with his dad Scott directly from an all-night cub scout lock-in!
Veteran volunteer Tim Riegle at Gratiot-Saginaw SGA Veteran volunteer Tim Riegle at Gratiot-Saginaw SGA
Some of the volunteers were experienced rabbitat builders from helping out on projects last year. Tim Riegle and Wayne Hanson, of Saginaw Field & Stream Conservation Club, along with Douglas Reeves of the DNR and Shawn McKeon, MUCC’s Youth Camp director, were all repeat volunteers. Terry and Sharon Klick, of the Marion Springs Conservation Club, volunteered at their first On the Ground project, as did Taylor Renton, Jon Terres, John Bauer and the DNR’s Chad Krumnauer.
The next day, twenty-five volunteers gathered at Sharonville State Game Area, including a large contingent from the Christian Service Brigade from the First Presbyterian Church in Trenton. Volunteers cut scotch pine and invasive autumn olive to provide more sunlight to young oak trees, which will improve their growth and productivity for acorns eaten by deer, turkey, and squirrels. They built brush piles out of the felled trees to provide cover and space for rabbits, and the youngsters from the Christian Service Brigade even found a little time on a cold but sunny Sunday afternoon for a light-hearted snowball fight.
Volunteers of all ages from the Christian Service Brigade at Sharonville SGA Volunteers of all ages from the Christian Service Brigade at Sharonville SGA
Mark Van Bogelen, who volunteered at last October’s crabapple planting near Gaylord, brought his son and grandson, Eric and Cade, to this project. Eric volunteered on the chainsaw and both worked hard all day. Everyone worked hard and had fun, despite the cold, and built some great rabbit habitat.
“Lucas and I enjoyed the day,” said volunteer Garry Wertenberger, who brought his son with wife Pam, “ I am glad to get opportunities like this to help show my son the fun of being outdoors, to learn about how we help in conservation and how to give back to our community”
Walter Seitz, an MUCC member wearing a Michigan OutofDoors Magazine baseball cap, organized the Christian Service Brigade’s participation. “I’ve been reading about the projects in the magazine and was just waiting for a southeast Michigan project we could help out with,” he said. He brought his family, as well: Vicky, Gabe, Nate and Emma. Joseph Strozesky brought his family, Madison and Jackson, as did Nicholas Latzy: Catherine Henri, Jacob, Andrew and Noah Latzy. Rob Plassman brought his son Tyler. Steve Seeger, Dan Durisin, Ray Kussmaul and John Toth also volunteered and worked hard all day.
Eric Van Bogelen on the chainsaw at Sharonville SGA Eric Van Bogelen on the chainsaw at Sharonville SGA
At the end of the day, DNR biologist Kristen Bissell and her son brought cookies for all the volunteers while Mark VanBogelen cooked hot dogs. It was truly a family atmosphere and lived up to On the Ground’s mission of building a conservation community by volunteering to improve fish and wildlife habitat.
Thank you to everyone who showed up, worked hard and had fun this weekend. It was a great start to the season and we hope you can make it to future projects. On the Ground will head to Fulton State Game Area this Saturday, March 1, south of Battle Creek to build rabbitat and up to Chicagon Lake in the western U.P. on Sunday to build musky structures. Email me at dyoungedyke@mucc.org if you can make it!
On the Ground is supported by grants from Consumers Energy Foundation, Enbridge Energy Partners and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and was awarded the inaugural Open Country award from Outdoor Life Magazine this year.

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